Saul

Perceiving that the Lord had indeed determined by Himself that a king be set over the people, Samuel dismissed the elders. “Go ye every man unto his city” was his final word to them. IHe did not bid them to go in peace, nor did he tell them that seeing that the Lord had so commanded, their request would be granted. Evidently the thing continued to be evil in his eyes, as far as his own understanding of the Lord’s doing was concerned. As to the elders, they obeyed Samuel. Leaving his presence, they returned to their respective places. Whether their desire would be granted they knew not. Samuel had told them nothing. Consequently, they had nothing definite to tell the people at home, except that Samuel was sorely displeased. As to Samuel, where that king was to be found, in what tribe and family in Israel, he knew not, unless he was mindful of the prophecy of Jacob, according to which the ruler was to come from Judah.

The Lord now took action. He sent Saul to Samuel and prepared Samuel for Saul’s arrival, by telling his servant “in his ear a day before” Saul’s coming that “tomorrow about this time I will send thee a man out of the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt anoint him to be captain over my people Israel, that he may save my people out of the hand of the Philistines: for I have looked upon my people, because their cry is come unto me.” In this communication the Lord motivates His command. Hearing, Samuel must have been surprised anew. The nation had rejected the Lord and had not repented of its great sin. This rebellious and impenitent people the Lord now wanted saved. And for the attainment of this purpose, Samuel must make them a king. How past finding the Lord’s ways! Yet Samuel obeyed. For he was a dutiful servant with implicit faith in the rightness of God’s moral government. There was no objection to the kingship as such. If only the people and king would serve the Lord, all would be well. This he knew.

In telling how Saul and Samuel were brought together, the sacred narrator goes into some detail. But first he gives Saul’s family and a description of Saul’s person. He was the son of Kish a Benjamite. His genealogical line is traced backward through Kish, Abiel, Zeror, Bechorath to Aphiah. But the record is not complete as according to the statement at I Chron. 8:28 Ner and not Abiel was the father of Kish. The conflict is removed by the legitimate conjecture that Abiel was the grandfather of Kish or a still remoter ancestor. Such omissions of names as that in the record of the book of the Kings occurs elsewhere in genealogical tables.

Kish, the father of Saul, is described in the text as “a mighty power” properly “a mighty man of power.” The god-fearing Boaz, Jephthah, and Gideon are similarly described, but likewise the rich and powerful nobles in the days of Menahem, king of the ten tribes. Thus we read at II Kings 15:20, “And Menahem exacted the money of Israel, even of all the mighty men of power (the rendering “mighty men of wealth” is incorrect), of each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the king of Assyria.” It is certain that not all these nobles feared God. Perhaps many if not most of them did not. But the Scriptures make it plain that in the early centuries the “mighty men of power or valor” in Israel were men of virile qualities and military capacities, strong and brave and true, fearing God and ready ever to take the field in defense of the violated rights of the people. Also implied in the appellation is that they were men, if not rich, then at least in easy circumstances. Such a man was Kish, the father of Saul. He was not necessarily a truly God-fearing man, though he may have been—the appellation in question is not the synonym of our word saint—but a “mighty man of power, in good circumstances, strong and brave, a defender of the rights of his people and if not genuinely then at least outwardly devoted to the religion of the fathers. Saul, too, as king, was a mighty man of power; yet he was devoid of the true fear of God. The whole tribe to which he belonged was characteristically martial as compared with the other tribes.

Saul’s birthplace cannot be established with certainty. He chose as his royal residence Gibeah, and here dwelt at least a part of his family, II Sam. 2:8. His age at the time of his elevation to the throne is not revealed. A good conjecture is that he was approximately forty years. For it may be supposed that the heavy responsibilities connected with the office of kingship prohibited the selection of a younger man. The king was the commander-in-chief of the army, the people’s chief executive under Jehovah and their supreme judge; and in distinction from the judges like Samuel, his jurisdiction extended to every corner of the land. It can hardly be supposed that dignities that exalted were bestowed by the Lord upon a very young man; and this agrees with what is revealed of the ages of his two sons. The elder, Jonathan, appears as a warrior shortly after his father’s succession; and Ishboseth, the younger, was forty years old when Saul died a suicide on the battle field.

The two words that the sacred narrator uses to describe Saul’s person are choice or excellent (Hebrew, Eachoor) and good (thobh). Not alone that he was such a man but, says the narrator, there was none of all the children of Israel better, goodlier, than he. The statement does not ascribe to Saul the spiritual graces with which Christ adorns His redeemed people (Saul was devoid of the true fear of God), but has reference to his appearance and to the impression he made by his appearance. For the sacred writer adds that from his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people. But mere physical bulk is not an asset to an ungainly, homely and stupid-looking man but rather a liability as it only serves to accentuate his ugliness. Saul, therefore, being a choice and good man, must have had something more than a huge frame that towered above the crowd. He must have had gainliness, stateliness of bearing, charm, and a handsome face that beamed with intelligence and that bespoke what men call nobility and strength of character. Such was the man Saul as to his appearance. And when the God-fearing in Israel first rested their eyes upon him, it was with delight and approval as they felt certain that he possessed true essential goodness despite the fact that there was no genuine fear of God before his eyes. But the man actually did have courage and much of it; and his natural charm and loveliness must have been remarkable. David’s lament on Saul alone bears out the truth of these statements. That lament contains lines such as these, “Saul and Jonathan were lovely and sweet in their lives . . . . they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. Ye daughters of Israel weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, and with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel,” II Samuel 1:23, 24. It was from the booty that he had taken in his wars with Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites and the kings of Zobah and of the Philistines that he had clothed the daughters of Israel m scarlet and with other delights, I Samuel 14:47, 48. Having taken the kingdom, he “fought against all his enemies on every side. . . He was a brave man and a passionate soldier indeed. He smote also the “Amelekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them.” Plainly, his consuming ambition of those first years of his reign was to make his people free and happy by delivering them from the oppressions of every foreign dominion. How his anger burned when he received tidings of the humiliating condition on which Nahash the Ammonite wanted to preserve the peace with the men of Jabesh east of the Jordan. On this condition would Nabash make a covenant with those men, that they allow him to thrust out all their eyes, and lay it for a reproach upon all Israel, I Samuel 11:1-3. How prompt Saul was to come to the deliverance of his harassed brethren there in Gilead! With what uncommon vigor he crusaded against the wizards in Palestine is known from the text at I Samuel 28:3. At the close of his reign there was hardly a witch to be found in all the land. And he was careful to observe all that Moses had commanded. He would not think of taking the field in battle without first having brought the appropriate sacrifices. And once having sworn, he was determined to keep his vow even at the cost of the life of his own kin. Saul was not a gross idolater. He was not the king of Samuel’s witness in the sense that he ate up the vineyards of his subjects. The spoil of the poor was not in his house. The righteous were not sold for silver during his reign. He joined not house to house, he laid not field to field “until there was no place, that he might be placed alone in the earth”. To the contrary, he was an ardent patriot. The interests of his people lay close to his heart. (He pushed on every side his wars with Israel’s enemies. He clothed the daughters of Israel in scarlet. And he was scrupulous in the observance of all the precepts of the law.

But with all his religiosity and patriotism, with all his character, loveliness and charm there slumbered on the bottom of his soul, at the time of his anointing the iron determination to rule without God and to serve his own ambitions and besides a lust of power and position that made it quite impossible for him to acquiesce in the rejection on account of his self-will and rebellions first of his house as a ruling dynasty and later of his very person. Instead of humbling himself under the mighty hand of God, he turned persecutor of the righteous David, all in the vile attempt to maintain himself in his position contrary to the revealed will of God. He had not in him the root of a new, heavenly life. He was a man totally devoid of right principle. He was his own God and before the shrine of this god he was prostrated; and therefore all his virtues were in the sight of the Lord glittering sins. Yet, what the man was actually at the time of his elevation to the throne was not known to the faithful in Israel, was known not to Samuel but to Him only—the Lord God—to whose eyes all things are naked and opened.

This was the man then that the Lord now sent to Samuel. As was said, in relating how the Lord brought the two together, the sacred writer goes into some detail. The asses of Kish had strayed from his estate and he instructed Saul to seek them with the aid of one of the servants. The first region where the search was conducted was the hill country of Mt. Ephraim,—a country that extended from the north down into the territory of Benjamin, and Gibeah, Saul’s home and starting-place. Not finding the asses they traversed the land of Shalisha,—a land that in all likelihood took its name from the circumstance that there three valleys converged into one, or the one divided into three. For the name is derived from the Hebrew word for the numeral three. As the search was in vain also in this place, the two of them passed through the land of Shalim that, if the character of the district corresponded to the meaning of its name, was a very deep valley. From Shalim they went to south-west. Passing through the land of Benjamin they came to the land of Zuph, which lay on the southwest of the tribe of Benjamin. Here Saul’s thoughts turned to his father. For, being an excellent and good man, he was a dutiful and considerate son, as also his diligent search for the lost asses plainly demonstrates. He was afraid that his father might have left caring for the asses, and taken thought for them. Out of tender regard for his father’s feelings he suggested that they return. But the servant came with another suggestion. In yonder city could be found a man of God. He was honorable; all his words came to pass without fail. Let them then go thither and consult the man, the servant urged. It might well repay them. For perhaps he could reveal the whereabouts of the lost beasts.

(The question whether the city was Ramah, where Samuel in those days dwelt, or some other city to which he had only come thither to the sacrificial feast, has given rise to endless dispute among commentators.

The question must remain an open one as the data on which to base a conclusive answer is lacking. It would thus be futile to mingle in the dispute, the more so because the question is not at all important).

The servant knew everything about Samuel. And the suggestion came from him. From this it has been concluded that Saul knew nothing about Samuel, but this would be hard to explain, if true. Distance could not account for it, as it was but a day’s journey from the place of Saul’s residence to Ramah, where dwelt Samuel. Accordingly, the servant was well informed. Neither could the reason of Saul’s ignorance have been that, as some interpreters have it, Saul was still “a simple-minded youth, who had rarely left his pastoral occupation, and knew little of the political and religious elements of the time.” Saul was not a youth but a married man with a son old enough to go to war. Others maintain that the explanation of Saul’s supposed ignorance of Samuel is that through all the years of his past life he had been too indifferent to what went on in Israel to know about Samuel. The objection to this view of the matter is that though Saul, it is true, was not an essentially good man and therefore could not have taken a genuine interest in matters religious, he could not very well have remained ignorant of a man like Samuel. The whole nation knew Samuel certainly. Had not the elders of Israel just insisted that he set over them a king? Thus it is more likely that the servant was telling what Saul, too, well knew, simply to lend force to his suggestion and that this was necessary in that Saul had little faith in Samuel and no genuine liking for him. It is not so unlikely that, being in a good-natured mood, Saul was only letting the servant have his way in the matter.

It was otherwise a rather trivial thing about which they went to consult Samuel. It perhaps tells us that in those days it was customary for the people to consult God’s prophets about such ordinary matters of life. It must remain undetermined whether Samuel could have helped them by making the desired disclosure, had not the Lord willed to lead Saul to Samuel through Saul’s search of those lost asses. Saul realized that it would not do to approach the seer empty-handed. But what would they bring him? Even the bread was spent in their vessels. The servant had the needed present. There was in his hand the fourth part of a shekel of silver. That they would give to the man of God to tell them their way. Saul was pleased. “Thy word is good. Come, let us go,” was his reply, and the two proceeded to the city, which stood on a height. Outside the city was another height on which the offerings took place. As Saul and his servant went up the accent of the city, they met young maidens, going out to draw water, and inquired of them whether the seer was there. In replying, the maidens waxed loquacious. They gave a generous amount of information and even took it upon themselves to utter words of advice and exhortation. The excellency and goodness of Saul must have had much to do with that. In answer to the question put by Saul and his servant, “Is the seer here,” they said, “(He is; behold, he is before you: make haste now, for he came today to the city; for there is a sacrifice of the people today in the high place: as soon as ye be come into the city, ye shall straightway find him, before he go up to the high place to eat: for the people will not eat until he come, because he doth bless the sacrifice; and afterwards they eat that be bidden. Now therefore get you up; for about this time ye shall find him.” The advice of the maidens was good. Saul and his servant must see to it that they be in the city in time to meet Samuel there. Being strangers they would find it difficult to contact Samuel on the neighboring hill, as there he would be surrounded by the crowd of worshippers. They had just entered the wide place inside the city gate, when they beheld Samuel coming from an opposite direction on his way to the high place. Samuel saw Saul too; and the Lord said unto him, Behold the man whom I spake to thee of this same shall reign over my people.” The original text reads, “And the Lord answered him, Behold the man I spake thee of!” It suggests that when Samuel looked on Saul and beheld his excellence and goodliness, he said what he said when he rested his eyes on Eliab, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him,” and that the Lord replied, “Behold the man. . . .” Saul drew near Samuel, not knowing who he was, and besought him to tell where the seer’s house was. Then Samuel identified himself. “I am the seer,” was his reply.

The Lord had selected Saul for the kingship. This Samuel could have disclosed to Saul at once and in precisely those words. But this he did not do. Instead, he revealed to Saul the fact of his election by suggestive speech and action. He told Saul that he was to be his guest of honor at the sacrificial meal on that day; that he would tell Saul all that was in his heart; and that the asses that were lost had been found. Thereupon he put to Saul the rhetorical question, “And on whom is all the desire of Israel? Is it not on thee and on thy father’s house?”

Others translate, “And for whom is all that which is desirable in Israel? Is it not for thee and for thy father’s house?” Either version can only mean that, if Saul served the Lord and kept His covenant, the true Israel—all that is desirable in Israel—would honor, love, serve and obey him as the vicar of God and in this sense be his. For honoring God, God would honor him by subduing the nation under him. Either version therefore must also mean that if Saul as king served not the Lord, he would be forsaken by both God and His people.

Saul plainly perceived the implications of this enigmatical statement, perceived that the Lord had selected him for the kingship. For he replied, “Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Wherefore then speakest thou so to me?” It need not be doubted that Samuel’s words had genuinely astonished Saul. He was not feigning surprise. True, he must have known that the nation was asking for a king. But there is no ground in the text for the conjecture that he vaguely expected to be chosen for this dignity or even that at the time he consciously desired the high office. Assuredly, Samuel’s communication must be held to have amazed him. For, as he said, he was a Benjamite, while it must have been a matter of common knowledge in Israel that, according to Jacob’s prophecy the ruler had to come from Judah. Besides, if there was to be a departure from that prophecy, why should the Lord choose him, Saul, a Benjamite? As he said, Benjamin was the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and his family, if we can give full credence to this part of his reply, the most insignificant of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin. This being true, he wanted to know why Samuel so spake to him. And the man was in earnest, it may be believed. With a man of his inclinations and attitudes, objections such as he was raising would have real weight. For there was no depth to the man. He moved in the realm of externalities.

Samuel did not reply. But he had gained his objective. His words had centered Saul’s mind on himself as Israel’s king to be, and thereby he had set Saul’s thoughts to multiplying within him,—thoughts known only to God and to Samuel by divine revelation. Saul’s heart was thus also to Samuel an open book now. How true this was, Saul would learn on the morrow. For Samuel had said, “Tomorrow will I tell thee all that is in thine heart.” In this way and in still other ways, several of them, would it be shown Saul that in Samuel he verily dealt with the Lord’s ambassador, who spake God’s word truly and executed God’s commands, and who now was transacting with him for God. For Samuel could know the thoughts of Saul’s heart only because God revealed them to him. This Saul well understood. He knew that in Samuel he had to do with God Himself. He thus would be without excuse. As to Samuel, knowing the thoughts of Saul’s heart, he would be able to advise, instruct, command and warn him appropriately according as Saul had need, on the morrow.